Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Tuesday is Recycling Day

A few years ago, my wife and I went through a particularly trying event in our relationship. There's no need to go into too much detail, as I didn't at the time and it wouldn't add anything to the overall emotion of what you're about to read. The following piece was written immediately after a weekend in which she and I tried desperately to begin cobbling what was left of our marriage back together (in vain, it would seem). It's incredibly personal -- so much so that a couple of months after posting it I removed it from the main page. I'm glad I wrote it, though, and at the time so was Jayne, as it certainly wasn't written to shame anyone, merely to help me express to both her and her family how strong I felt our bond was and how much I loved them. This piece hasn't been seen by anyone other than me in more than three years.

"Till Human Voices Wake Us" (Originally Published, 7.31.06)

In the home in which my wife grew up, there is a clock that's broken. Its hands are permanently frozen -- the smaller one almost directly over top of the 7 and its slightly longer brother, between the 4 and the 5. A stopped clock is of no great significance and usually requires little more than a fresh battery. This clock however is noteworthy because it isn't technically dead. As it turns out, the second-hand is in constant motion; it's wedged squarely between the 9 and the 10 and counts off the seconds without actually making any progress. It lunges forward erratically, then snaps back into place -- like a runner jumping the gun and returning quickly to his original position. It does this again and again and again -- counting second after second after second while going absolutely nowhere.

What's also noteworthy is where this clock happens to be located; it's on the wall above the inside of the shower. In other words, to fully see this strange little phenomenon, you would ostensibly have to be completely naked -- exposed.

This past weekend, I left New York City -- packing my recent heartbreak and a change of clothes into an unnecessarily expensive rental SUV, and heading south. At this point, getting as far away from the place I hang my hat -- or at least my baseball cap -- is a consistently welcome thought. With all due respect to the legion of tourists in their obligatory "I (Heart) NY" t-shirts, I can't say I'm all that fond of the place right now; it holds too many painful reminders of a recent history to which I wasn't privy, but which held an unseen death-grip on almost all parts of my life. Everywhere I look, I now see sickening landmarks -- relics of a relationship I didn't even know had existed. Everywhere I look, I now see the truth.

It makes living here a little like wandering through a waking nightmare.

So, the main point of this journey was to put some distance between myself and the place where two people -- one I've loved, the other I've never even met -- detonated a nuclear bomb whose fallout half-life is somewhere in the 3000-year range. It's not without some irony that my destination wound up being the town where one of those people was raised; and no, it wasn't the one I've never met -- although I hear it's lovely in hell this time of year. What I hoped to find in Reading, Pennsylvania -- besides the legendary railroad and the woman I had sent away a few days previously -- I wasn't quite sure. My general disposition was a constantly ebbing and flowing mixture of anger, sadness, and an oddly Zen-like calm. Mostly though, I found myself silently demanding answers. I wanted to understand. I wanted to comprehend. I wanted to know why.

Reading was the mountain to which I had to go.

Two days later, I have some of the answers I was so desperately looking for; there are others I'll never find; there are still others that simply don't exist. The question now would seem to be whether or not this particular combination of knowledge and ignorance is satisfactory to consider a future with my wife.

It would seem to be anyway.

There are a few additional elements though which -- when poured into the mixture -- make the decision all but crystal clear. To understand them, you have to understand my wife; I have no doubt that I understand her better than almost anyone on this planet. Others can easily spot the beauty and the sexiness -- the sweetness and the warmth; I see the light that radiates beneath even that. She has a humanity -- flawed though it may be -- like no other.

Jayne is a soul in transition.

She was born first, into a family which would grow to become a caring, loving, and close-knit group beyond description. Her father is one of the most unabashedly optimistic and honorable men I've had the pleasure to know; her mother is infinitely complex and fascinating -- the yin to his yang, with just enough common elements to create a bond that's withstood a lifetime of growth. Her younger brothers and sister are each thoroughly unique -- but all carry Jayne's wit, intellect and creative capacity; together they share the kind of bond at which an only-child like myself can only marvel. They've welcomed me and my own family into theirs with open arms, and I couldn't in a lifetime properly express my gratitude.

These people -- this love -- has grounded her in immeasurable ways; it's kept her humble and thankful, no matter the stellar heights she's reached independently. I fell in love not only with her, but with her family -- because they're one and the same. This is a big deal for a naturally detached jerk like me.

Jayne has always longed for more.

For the two of us -- separately and as a couple -- New York City has always represented the brass ring. There was a time when we could think of living nowhere else, whether we were in fact residents or were living elsewhere. For us, the city held our past (we met there), our present (we were married there) and our future (we imagined settling down there for good). It was a place of endless possibilities and constant forward motion. I was excited and proud to watch her realize her dreams there; I was also scared shitless.

I once asked, right here on this little experiment of mine: When can support work against you? What happens when new experiences render a person unrecognizable to you -- even when you share an intense bond with him or her? What the hell do you do when one or both sides of a loving couple become lost in all the chaos?

I can finally answer that.

You return to the center.

In our wedding vows, Jayne and I included a passage from Joseph Campbell which explains the wedding band as a circle whose center is always the couple itself. The idea is that no matter what outside force exerts pressure, each person is expected to return to the center for shelter and comfort from the other. It's beautiful and yet stunningly simple symbolism.

Unfortunately, our center -- the one we agreed upon together -- has been catastrophically damaged.

So, with nowhere else to turn and nowhere else to go, Jayne returned to her original center. Her family was there to offer love and support which -- in spite of my heartbreak and rage -- was exactly what I had hoped they would offer.

Our weekend there together was a fragile patchwork of sorrow and sadness -- anger and outrage. I broke down into desperate sobs more times than I care to relive. She expressed unrelenting sorrow for what had happened -- for what we had lost. She promised to prove herself. I promised to listen. She promised to regain my faith and trust. I promised to show support.

We both promised to try.

The reasons I'll do this...

Because I've made horrible and hurtful mistakes in my lifetime, and paid an equally horrible price for them -- and I never want to see someone I care for go through that.

Because through those mistakes, I learned the importance of forgiveness and redemption.

Because she's shown support for me during times when others would have left my side.

Because I know the real woman -- no matter how lost she may sometimes become.

Because I once held her hand and vowed to never give up on her.

Because somewhere along the line, this cynical bastard found hope -- and she's the one responsible.

Because we have a history that's worth fighting for.

Because I love her -- and I waited a lifetime to find something so precious.

This will without question be the most difficult challenge of either of our lives. I'm frightened, and the sense of safety that I once found in her arms unconditionally has been torn from me. I have images in my head and demons in my heart that I have no idea how I'm going to exorcise -- but I know that I have to somehow, if we're to survive. Things will be different between us for some time to come, but maybe one day they'll be better. Maybe we'll be better.

My wife returned to her center, and found that no matter how much she grows, or things change, time there stands still. All you have to do is be willing to expose enough of yourself to realize it.


Mr. Controversy said...

Beautiful piece, man. Sorry things turned out the way they did. I personally find that the hardest part is getting used to having an open ended future again. When you're with someone for a while, you just can't help but plot it all out in your head. You grow accustomed to this future that you're 99.9% certain is going to happen, and then like that it's taken away. But you're still left with the goddamn visions and feelings of that once possible future, and it hurts like Hell. Scary really that the stuff we had fades easily, but the stuff we were going to have is the real bitch of it. You hang in there too, man.

Ezanee said...

Hi Chez, occasional reader and irregular commenter Ezan here. Firstly I have to say that I respect you for your style of writing on the toughest of topics, even when they're as personally trying as your experience was. This post, even for a guy like me who is as far removed from you both geographically and personally, has hit me hard, and I wish you all the best in finding yourself and your happiness.

As they say, time heals all wounds? I guess it sounds cliche and shallow, but as you intimated in your intro to this post, it took a couple of years sitting on this before deciding to share it. So maybe, hopefully soon, things will really take a turn for the better. Take care, man, and thanks for sharing your writing with us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I've been going through a rough patch in my relationship, and you articulated, better than I could, all the reasons why I want to keep trying.

Chez said...

I'm not sure I'm the best overall example to look to. Unfortunately, the story didn't exactly have a happy ending.

Anonymous said...

I wish we understood more of the reasons Jayne chose to leave the relationship. They say cheating is a symptom of something else deeply wrong already in the relationship. Though, granted, it is hardly my place to demand explanations.

Anonymous said...

It may not have had a happy ending, but don't forget that in the end.. the story was true.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the writing you do. I have a ridiculously hard time talking about what's going on in my head and expressing my feelings to others. As a result I often feel like I am the only one experiencing these emotions or having these thoughts. I have been reading your blog for a few months and I have already found many postings that I can identify with and that show me that I am not the first person to be so conflicted in my head. You are a great writer and you have helped me come to terms with myself. It is pretty sad that it took some website to help me do this, but that's the way it is. Good luck and I hope someone can help you with your voices/demons (or whatever you want to call them) like you've helped me with mine

gina said...

That chapter didn't have a happy ending, but the story is far from over. Inara's story and yours are still moving forward, even though increments of pain and hopelessness and confusion mar the progress. I think your willingness to try to save something you thought vital/valuable speaks to the beauty inside you. Unfortunately, it takes two people actively committed to that renewal. This doesn't make you a sucker, or a fool. This doesn't mean that love is a sham and a lie. We all want to believe that we'll find that place where we can rest, while holding an unwavering hand.
Your heart and better intents have been beat the fuck up by this, not like I need to say so. It sucks beyond the beyond.
You come back here, to our faceless banter, and try to give us things to laugh at or think about. You share your words with us, and we appreciate it for the lovely thing that is. You are still investing in something here, reaching out, creating. We are listening, and I know I wish that I could offer anything to assuage the fucking sadness of this derailed relationship.
You are not broken. You are worthwhile, and good.
Goddamn, man.
Everything will be OK.

Deborah said...

Um, I think you're actually a pretty good example. I read you almost daily, have commented & emailed. I wish to Christ that my ex-husband had felt even 1/10th of the commitment you did and, I think despite the age of this piece, still do. No, to be fair, he is...well, fair. But trust me, under the surface is only more surface, and that will only get you so far in a marriage. Oh, and one more thing...and I hope this doesn't get me kicked off as a commenter. But, out of curiosity, I have read some of Jayne's stuff, too. And, I agree; it's clear that she still does want more. You love her and you'll defend her, just like I still, STILL defend my ex. And this to people who want to be on "my side"! But...she seems a little pretentious and I only hope that she realizes what she's giving up. I can tell you this much: A man willing to stick and stay, willing to overCOME (not overlook, by any means) a transgression of the magnitude outlined in this piece, well...priceless. At some point, the chase becomes EXHAUSTING, not a bit of thrill left. And, having spent my own time in that bloodsucking city, I can tell you that it, too, is exhausting. I maintain to this day that unless you're born and bred there, it's a city for the young. You write beautifully, and it's cathartic, I'm sure. So. Stay sane.

Anonymous said...

Well, at least you still tried, even though there is little reason I can see to stay with someone under the circumstances you describe. Perhaps I'm too unforgiving of that sort of thing.

pxilated said...

Thanks for recycling this one.

Al said...

Yes it did, Chez. You two have a gorgeous little girl and are figuring out how to raise her as parents instead of either of you walking away. Far too many kids don't have parents that would sacrifice and compromise in order to ensure BOTH of them are in the picture.

Appreciate that you both chose to acknowledge what couldn't work while committing yourselves to what MUST. Inara is the happy ending.

graceamazes said...

Sometimes, no matter how much we want, or how good it was, there is no happy ending. Going through it now, myself...

Anonymous said...

I'm a long-time reader, and your personal posts are your best. Your unwavering love and affection for your wife despite her flaws and infedility is astonishing. You still see her humanity and goodness. You still want her family to offer her love and support even though you're angry and hurting. The tribute you give her family is beautiful. It sounds like Jayne changed your life, dulled some of your rough edges, made you feel alive, brought true romance into your life. I can understand wanting to give someone like that a second chance. A lot of people would not be able to muster that kind of forgiveness. But, sometimes I think you're too hard on yourself. I can't help but wonder, when did your brain surgery happen in relation to all of this? I think this horrible trial in your marriage occured only a few short months after your surgery. Maybe things were good before they got bad again because she was doing everything in her power to make everything right. Something will inevitably go wrong again. You and Jayne are very passionate, talented, creative people. It seems you shared an intense bond, a deep fondness, an ardent love. She was probably your best friend and kindred spirit, too. You shared many of the same interests and viewed the world in a similar fashion. This has got to be so hard on the two of you. I know you continue to love and respect each other, and I wish you nothing but the best. As heart wrenching as this may seem, this may actually BE for the best. Take care of yourself.

Barbara said...

There is no happy ending for my marriage. Married coming up 23 years, separated for one. Happy, blissful, for 15. The daughter we have and the blissful years are well worth the pain I am going through now. You write beautifully. But for the sake of Inara, and the love you still clearly have for Jayne, is there any way you and she might cobble it back together? We raised our daughter together until she was 19 at least, I am grateful for that. If she is at all contrite and willing to try, please also be open to it! Best wishes whatever happens!

Anonymous said...

I've been a reader for a long time but have rarely commented. I know it's not my business but I feel like I've come to know you and with this post I just feel like I have to say what's on my mind.

You made Inara a happy little baby with your daily love and care. I, for one, do not understand how Jayne could want to deprive Inara of your daily dose of both. Seems like it's more important for Jayne to live and "play" in NY than it is to have a family. She's living in a fantasy world.

Wish I had a man who loved me one tenth as much as you have loved her. Sounds like she isn't worth the effort anymore.

Sorry for your troubles and hope you can find some peace and love in the near future.

Anonymous said...

When you say that Jayne has always wanted more, does that mean she needs to have a certain lifestyle that you can't provide? There have been mentions in the past about how she will self-destruct if forced to leave NYC. Does she just want some rich dude to live off of and provide the lifestyle she feels entitled to?

Anonymous said...

Oh, honey, you break my heart every day and I wish I could put all the pieces back together for you, but I can't. I see you aching and there's no balm I can provide. I know that you wanted nothing more than peace, love, and contentment, and instead you've been forced into a life that's colder and bleaker than anything you ever experienced. I believe that Inara should be with you, but I also know that you are too full of love for your baby to let her be a pawn. I know that you've kept Jayne's transgressions to yourself for a long, long time in an effort to treat her with decency and respect, and even though this post (which I am so glad that you recycled, by the way) pulls back the curtain on the Great and Powerful Jayne and lets out a sliver of truth, it's nothing compared to the semi-public self-flagellation to which you've subjected yourself for years, believing that it was all you, that if you could just change and be the man that she wanted, it would be okay.

What you need to realize, and what I've told you so many times, is that you are more than good enough. Your love for her was epic, and still is. It is not your fault that you wrapped up all of that love, adoration, respect and commitment in a big bow and offered it to her and she turned it away. I hate that she's broken you and made you believe that you're somehow unworthy of love and happiness. There is so much beauty and passion inside of you but I'm afraid it's going to be buried underneath your newfound coldness and hardness and absolute cynicism. You were a right bastard in your past, no two ways about it, but as I've told you again and again, you paid for your mistakes. At some point you redeemed yourself, and Jayne wields your past transgressions as a weapon because she knows she can, in the same way that she uses your current economic and career issues as a hammer obliterating your self-esteem.

I don't know if this makes any sense, but I had to get it out. And I'll try to answer the phone more often.

strangelittlegirl said...

I feel so sad for both of you when I read these "personal" posts - yet they are so beautiful. I can't imagine the pain you guys are going through. On some lesser level I can relate to the separation pains: my significant other and I are splitting after 2 years of cohabitating. It took me those two years to get it through my thick skull that he doesn't even care about himself let alone me. He was never going to commit - he barely knew I existed. So I am returning to my "center" - (Jayne's hometown area actually) because NYC is just not where I want to be anymore. So yeah, on a smaller level, I feel you. Everyday hurts doesn't it? The waking up, the trying to fall asleep... Sorry for the pain you guys are going through - I hope it is lessening a little as time marches on.

blackbird said...

What she said.
(Anon 8:48)

Anonymous said...

I don't know who Anon 3:06 & 8:48 are but ditto to both. Jayne is just not worth your effort anymore. She is not big enough to accept the strength of who you truly are. More's the pity for her, she's not capable of understanding your kind of love and passion. It doesn't come around very often and not everyone gets to experience that kind of love. She's a very foolish young woman!

Sorry man.

R said...

I write this as someone who has been on Jayne's end of this story. Your ability to forgive and put your whole self into making the marriage work speaks volumes of your love for her. We should all be so lucky as to have someone to love us despite bad decisions we may make during the times when we lose who we are.

It's a shame the efforts are in vain.

Anonymous said...

Every time I talk to Jayne or check her Facebook page I wonder if there's something terrible lurking under all that superficial shine.

You just proved to me there is.

Chez said...

You know, after everything I've been through with my wife lately, I made a promise to myself that I wasn't going to defend her anymore. Not that I'd start attacking her, because I won't -- but that I run a site where people can comment and I'd no longer edit out the comments that were critical of Jayne. Maybe it's a cheap way to get in a shot or two on my behalf -- to engage in a little personal "extraordinary rendition." If that's the case, then I'm willing to accept the hostility of those who think that I'm engaging in cheap, low-road tactics.

That said, Jayne remains my wife (for the moment) and in spite of everything I love her -- and I love our daughter. I'm grateful for the support that I've gotten from commenters and those who've emailed me, but yeah, I guess I feel like Jayne's been ganged up on enough for one post. I'm not perfect and I made plenty of mistakes -- ones I hope I've owned up to and apologized to Jayne for. Just know that even though I think I got screwed by the woman I loved with all my heart -- that I secretly agree with a lot of the comments being made and appreciate them -- I'm not without fault. It's always a two-way street. I just happen to think that the traffic coming down one side was a lot faster and a lot heavier.

Lauren said...

This is a beautiful piece, and to your credit you've written it with the feelings of its moment, and (I think) not retouched them too much now that time has passed and changed things.
I think we writers wish more even than everybody else does that we could gather all the good into our lives and then just make it all hold still. Tom Robbins' question: How do you make love stay? The impulse to write is partly the wish to set it down well enough that it will stay. That we can *capture* it -- life, love, happiness -- and keep it with us.
And we can, and we can't.
So your beautiful piece allows us to go with you back to that moment when the break in your marriage was one that could be mended; when you could summon your love and her love and her family's love and find the way back to New York, and your dreams, and together.
But no matter how well we write it down, no matter how deeply our hearts resonate with what we wrote, no matter that we wrote it so well that many other hearts resonate with it too; the spell doesn't work. We can't make life stand still. Life and love are only in balance because they are moving, like a bicycle, and sometimes two lives cannot stay in balance with each other, or in balance with a love, and still keep their own balance, or still keep traveling the same path side-by-side. You can't always see the motion slipping out of sync; but once it starts to go it's likely to topple one or both of you, or your love, or your dreams, to try to put it back.
You can't put it back. It all just keeps going.
Love is a moment. Happiness is a moment. Even life, if you want to get all Zen about it, even life is really just a moment.
That your love did not guarantee your marriage would work forever says nothing about the quality of your love, or the quality of your marriage; it says nothing about you, nothing about Jayne, and nothing about your fitness for life or love or marriage. Except that it was mortal, living, human love; and you, a mortal, living human loved another mortal, living human with that mortal, living, human love.
We writers, we want to gather all our happiness and love into one place and hang on to it. But by the time we've written it down, we've already moved on.
Pieces like this one can be like the breadcrumbs Hansel and Gretel dropped in the woods; but when you follow them back, it isn't that the birds have eaten them. It is that they can only take you back to who you were. They can't always take you to a place where the love can work the magic that it once did.
I wish sometimes it were just easier to accept that love doesn't always work the way we want it to; that it doesn't always make two lives fit together forever. I feel like it's a dirty trick of evolution, to give us this feeling, that we have found our life-mate, and then allow us to be wrong about it. It works for reproduction but it sucks for happiness.

margo said...

thanks, that was beautiful

Ally said...

That was breathtakingly painful...and extraordinarily beautiful. I have to hand it you, Chez - if your post is any indication, you handled the situation back then with a helluva lot more grace and insight than I did when it was me.